B-school Weekend: The grass is greener on his sidehttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/education-news/bschool-weekend-the-grass-is-greener-on-his-side/

B-school Weekend: The grass is greener on his side

A school of many ‘firsts’,the Indian Institute of Management,Kozhikode,is also turning into a school of ‘ideas’. Prof Debashis Chatterjee,its director,shares how the young IIM is charting a unique course for itself

It’s convocation time at the Indian Institute of Management,Kozhikode (IIMK). As the students smartly walk to take their seats,I cannot help but notice the number of female students—almost every third student is a woman—something that’s not a familiar sight in any B-school across the country. (Go around any B-school,women form only 10-15% of the total students.) The next morning,while talking to the IIMK director,Prof Debashis Chatterjee,at the oxy-rich IIMK campus,I ask him how he managed to get a higher percentage of women students. “We don’t manage women,women are fairly unmanageable,” he smiles,adding,“What I wished was to create an aspiration at IIMK where we will have more representation from one half of India.” And why not,by 2050,India is supposed to be among the top 2-3 nations of the world,and so how can a nation be among the top 2-3 with 50% of its own population not reaching its fullest potential—well,women are realising their potential in various fields,but that kind of potential is still missing in management education,and well,our Parliament.

So how did IIMK do it? “I aimed for a diverse classroom,” says Chatterjee. And he is right,since learning doesn’t come only from books,but associations as well. If I,as a student,only have,say,male journalists around me,my learning gets compromised! But then,doesn’t CAT test the requisite skills to be a good manager? “No,” Chatterjee chuckles,“What is CAT,it is a series of tests that selects your ability to take that exam,it’s nothing more than that. CAT doesn’t test your managerial ability,it doesn’t test your interpersonal skills,it doesn’t test your social skills … it simply tests your ability to take the test. Because you clear the test you will be a good manager is not a correct assumption. But the test is nevertheless important. What we did was we enlarged the frame through which we see our candidates. And so,unlike other IIMs,we expanded the base of the students we interview.”

Women in India,especially after graduation,do suffer from what can be called situational deprivation—that the conditions under which they take the CAT are very different from those of men. Chatterjee explains that he simply opened the doors to IIMK a little wider (unlike some other B-schools that give a few more marks to women candidates so as to increase their percentage). “Earlier we used to interview 800 candidates,we then increased the number to more than 2,000,and there we saw that the women are equally bright,and some more (proved by the fact that during our summer placements,of the first 100 jobs,60 went to women),” he explains.

As we walk towards his office,I ask him why such a thing isn’t happening at the other IIMs,or for that matter,at other fine B-schools in India. “Because they are stuck on a success model. Just take 99 percentile and don’t worry about what is going on in the institutional context. People who clear CAT are analytically bright,verbally elegant,but they may not be good at ‘delivering’ in the field of management,” he says.

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The view from his office,situated slightly uphill,is majestic. Among the thousands of trees,I see some aesthetically designed buildings. I point out to one. “That is the museum of Indian business history,the first for any IIM.” First! Well,there seem to be many ‘firsts’ for IIMK,I ask him. “Yes,we are the first IIM to set up an endowment fund in the memory of the late CK Prahalad; we are the first IIM to be awarded international accreditation by the Association of MBAs for our PGP and ePGP; we are the first IIM to start a Centre for Excellence in Academic Leadership (in partnership with Yale); we are the first IIM to put gender diversity on the agenda of higher education; the list is long,” he says.

Along with these ‘firsts’,I also notice—from a report he hands over to me—that the student intake at IIMK has grown 5 times in the last 7 years. Aren’t you going too fast,it’s just 14 years and you are among the finest B-schools in South Asia,I ask him? “I don’t believe in speed,I believe in rhythm. We are a school of ideas,success follows. Every 3 months you will see an idea taking birth at IIMK and that idea will be implemented. We had the idea of CK Prahalad endowment fund,we had the idea of gender diversity,we had the idea of social equity,and so on. Also,ideas have no hierarchy,my ideas come from my faculty,students et al and all I do is open the doors so these ideas become real. A caterpillar,if it is stuck in its form,will remain a caterpillar,but if it is not stuck in its form but in its essence,it will turn into a butterfly. So,we are not stuck in the format of management education at IIMs. We are not an IIM in the conventional sense,we are an ideas school.”

The mention of Yale a few minutes ago makes me ask him about the Ivy League standards and how some of our institutes like IIMA and ISB and close to those. Why do we want to match those standards,I ask him? “Ivy League standards are not set by a country or a culture or a group of institutes,they are set by the universal nature of what education is. You take Harvard,in its executive education programme there are 60-odd students,representing 35 nationalities,and each of them run close to a billion-dollar enterprise. Thus,their view of the world is very different from the view of the world of a student from any B-school in India,including IIMs. So,when you talk about an Ivy League school,you are talking about a perspective,not about a building,” he says. We all know that there is no question about the fact that the talent pool coming to IIMs is slightly better than what goes into most Ivy League schools,but there is no denying the fact that the Ivy League school will give the student a perspective much better than what IIMs are currently able to provide. “Ivy League standard is a benchmark that we are trying to achieve and that benchmark essentially is: more diverse students,more diverse faculty,more diverse audience. Nalanda was an Ivy League school,it had students from all over the world,” he says.

On entrepreneurship,he says that IIMK encourages students to use the school itself as a laboratory for developing their entrepreneurial skills. “Many of our students are doing so. I tell them why you have to go out when we have the capital,we have problems,and we need people to solve these problems,we know who you are,we have seen you for 2 years,” he says.

The major chunk of the revenues at IIMK comes from PGP right now,which is roughly R30 crore. As he tells me this,he points to yet another building. “That’s one of the places where our MDPs take place. Our Management Complex—with an investment of R50 crore combines the art of management with the science of ayurveda—will be the most sought after executive education facility anywhere in the country. We are creating an ayurveda spa facility,because when a CEO comes to IIMK,he has not come to learn about Maslow or a Harvard case study,he has come to experience something unique. This one is for our short-duration executive MDP programme,where the CEOs and managers can learn as well as relax,and take back a unique experience,” he says. He also adds that the major chunk of revenues will slowly shift from PGP to shorter duration MDPs and eMDPs.

It’s Holi festival and the students and faculty are celebrating in style. He gets an invitation call,smiles,and says,“I’ve played Holi thrice since morning,we are one big family,I have to play again.” And as we walk towards the parking area,I feel the softness of the lush-green Buffalo Grass under my feet. I look at him,he smiles,perhaps he is thinking: “The grass is greener on my side,and I have made it.”